When people tell rat stories the rats are always legendary. It’s always a vicious rat the size of a dog. Yet rats are infrequently seen. They’re heard in the walls, indelible half fictions scuttling across the rooftops in the moon. Big-ass rats with rat brown fur. Rats in sewers and demolition sites and grain silos, a furtive rustling in the flung garbage of empty lots.
When I was nine I saw the dead rat, wet and lying next to a garbage can in the alley. I studied the limp body and was disappointed in the size; I thought it should be bigger. I never saw another till I lived in Baltimore years later. Wherever humans go rats follow. Where rats go cats follow. Thank God for cats.
There have been noises in the walls lately. On early AM the cat chases the noise in the walls and knocks over an old VHS tape. This evening we have gone to a concert I don’t want to go to. The second she turns on the light there is this rat. The rat goes right up the wall, a hellacious big rat that makes a whistling noise as it runs. She picks up something and charges after the rat as I stand there feeling sorry for it.
The rat runs down the other side of the wall and zips into the bathroom like a bug, only quicker and she goes right after it. She turns on the bathroom light and goes in. I feel neglected but stay where I am. This night has deteriorated into a rat hunt.
I’m standing as far from the bathroom door as I can. I have the front door open for the rat to go out if it will. She is battling the rat in the bathroom and I hear the rat’s whistle. She sticks her head out the bathroom door and says, I am killing this fucking rat twice and it keeps coming back.
Then she goes back into the bathroom and resumes. I can hear the rat running across the shower stall. Ever hear a rat run across porcelain? Finally the rat squeezes through a vent in the wall.
On an October evening I sit on the back stoop of the farmhouse under a full harvest moon. A cute little mouse at the lip of the window well writhes and I know it is full of the rat poison she has put out. The mouse moves in slow circles with one leg back. Then it shivers and goes taut and extends its rear legs and dies. Sorry little brother but I didn’t do it.
This is enough for me and I go back in the house.